HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – In February, Governor Tom Wolf proposed his final state budget, which includes a sizable increase for social workers and mental health services.
As budget negotiations and compromises take shape before the Jun 30 deadline, advocates hope the proposed funding increase will remain untouched.
The Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) called on lawmakers to support the $36 million increase for social, and mental health services.
“We’ve identified our budget priorities for this budget season, which include increase in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families grant, improving affordable housing, meeting the responsibilities to our county governments to allow them to provide for meaningful mental health services and also to enhance their election operations,” said Tim Seip, Legislative Chair of NASW PA. “That is truly where the rubber meets the road. Direct care. Services directly delivered to make a difference in people’s lives,” he added.
Seip, a former State Representative, said programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), have not kept pace with inflation since the 1990s. He says the funding increase in Gov. Wolf’s proposed budget is long overdue.
“To bring us out of the 1990s with an increase to the TANF grant. We want to help Pennsylvanians meet their basic housing needs,” said Seip.
Seip also said that additional federal dollars are needed to hire and retain staff.
“And we also asked for a $75 million addition of federal funds to recruit and retain staff,” said Seip.
Additional investments include funding for social workers to assist law enforcement during a mental health crisis.
“A $10 million investment to fund social workers responding to calls in conjunction with police departments, and working together to make sure that we can actually bring help to these police officers who need assistance in dealing with mental health issues,” said Representative Michael Schlossberg (D-Lehigh). We have a budget surplus. We have a need. We have the political support. This is the moment,” he added.
Other lawmakers in attendance say the funding outlined in the proposal reflects the need to focus on individual Pennsylvanians in challenging times.
“A budget is a statement of priorities and so we have to figure out what are we going to prioritize. Are we going to prioritize big corporations, or are we going to prioritize all these other things that are really positively impacting everyday people’s quality of life,” said Representative Aerion Abney (D-Allegheny). “We need to work together to address the issues that people are dealing with day in and day out,” he added.
As a social worker himself, Abney says he knows firsthand the positive impact social workers can have on individuals and families.
“I think we don’t always look at it, which can happen here in Harrisburg a lot, around the quantitative value of certain things,” said Abney, adding that his field can provide a more humane approach. “We look at it through the qualitative value and not just looking at people as numbers and statistics, but looking at people as real human beings,” he added.
He says his colleagues should have one priority during budget season.
“People first,” said Abney. “We are here to represent people and we should always be keeping them at the forefront,” he added.